The courts did the right thing by blocking voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin that aim to keep people from the polls.
NEW YORK TIMES Editorial
When Texas lawmakers were writing one of the nation’s most restrictive voter-identification laws last spring, they rejected a proposal to allow voters to use other forms of ID beyond a narrow list. They rejected another suggestion to help voters without an ID card apply for one. And when a lawmaker offered an amendment to offer free access to birth certificates in order to get a card, instead of charging $22, they rejected that, too.
So it was no surprise on Monday when the Justice Department did the right thing and forcefully rejected the state’s voter-ID law entirely. The department said the law clearly disadvantages Hispanic voters, who lack photo ID’s at a much higher rate than the state’s overall population. The Voting Rights Act requires that states and counties with a history of racial discrimination prove that new voting laws don’t discriminate in purpose or effect, and Texas was unable to meet that test.
The department’s action comes after it also blocked a similar law in South Carolina in December, a demonstration that it is serious about overturning a growing body of politically inspired legislation that could make it harder for people in more than a dozen states to vote. (It has also blocked Florida’s decision to curtail early voting and third-party registration drives.) These laws, pushed by Republicans, would erect barriers to minorities, students and the poor, all of whom tend to vote for Democrats.
In a letter to Texas elections officials, the Justice Department said the state submitted no evidence that it is suffering from a voter-impersonation problem that would be solved with an ID requirement. But, at the department’s request, Texas did submit data showing how the requirement would affect Hispanic voters, and the numbers were disturbing. Nearly 11 percent of Hispanic registered voters lack a driver’s license or government-issued card, compared with nearly 5 percent of non-Hispanic voters. (Hispanics were the only minority group analyzed because it was easier to identify their last names.)
That means that as many as 800,000 Hispanic voters in the state could be disenfranchised if they cannot get a government ID. And the department notes that the state did nothing to make that task easier, refusing to open more driver’s license offices (lacking in 81 out of 254 counties) or even to extend the hours of the existing ones.
Another blow against discrimination on Monday came from a Wisconsin judge who ruled that the state’s voter-ID law violated the State Constitution. The judge, Richard Niess, wrote that the people most affected by the law “would consist of those struggling souls” who are qualified to vote but the lack the financial or physical resources to get an ID card. What right does the government have, he wrote, to “simply cast aside the inherent suffrage rights of any qualified elector” in the hopes of preventing some unqualified people from voting?
The challenges to these two state laws will now move through the courts, which will have an opportunity to restore a basic constitutional right to those who have lost it.